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Try a different USB jack. If it still doesn't appear you probably have to format it for Windows.
To do this, right-click on My Computer, go to Manage, then choose Disk Management. The disk should appear there. You'll have to format it for Windows in order to use it.
Most USB accessories do not get recognized well when plugged in before startin the computer. The exception seems to be mice. USB hadr drives and flash drives specially seem to have this problem. I always use the disconnect icon in the system tray to disconnect before shutdown and plug them in after windows has stabilized. I even gets worse if you use a USB hub. Some devices will not be recognized when attached to a hub.
If your computer recognized the hard drive before you have installed your last operating sistem(s) that can be the problem. Your operating sistem or BIOS is not seeing your hard drive any more. Installing a new operating sistem is going to solve your problem but try another one, not the operating sistem you used until now.
It is possible that your hard drive is a SATA and therefore not readily readable by 98, XP but surprised not even by Vista. In any case, since you would still prefer to run XP (due to other software compatibility issues), pls press F6 when prompted by the XP installer. Additionally, you would need to have ready in a floppy the appropriate SATA drivers for your motherboard. They maybe downloaded from the motherboard manufacturer's website or possibly in the installer/driver CD that came with the PC.
Other than the above, it is also possible that you may have some issues with the availability of XP drivers for the other devices for that computer specially if it is branded.
Hope this be of initial help/idea. Pls post back how things turned up or should you need additional information.